Wednesday, 19 August 2009

The Scoop on Upside-Down Hanging Planters

by Marc from Garden Desk

A recent craze that I have been very interested in lately is the Upside-Down Tomato Planter. There's a good chance you have heard of this before, known someone who has tried it, or even done it yourself. I thought I would add my two cents worth about them here.

The first time I grew a tomato plant out of the bottom of a planter was over 15 years ago, but in the past year or two it has become wildly popular. This is due mainly to the highly marketed Topsy Turvy Upside-Down Hanging Tomato Planter.

Before I tried the Topsy Turvy, I thought it was all hype. I tried it this year however and it actually does work well. You can read more about it on my blog. The fact of the matter is that you don't need a Topsy Turvy to grow upside down tomatoes. You can make a planter yourself and I've seen much written about different designs. Some of course are better than others but I've seen people use hanging baskets, buckets and two liter plastic bottles. The key to success when making your own is to have enough soil volume. The Topsy Turvy works because it is cylindrical which gives the roots more room. I'm fairly sure a two liter bottle does not allow enough root space.

If you have never grown tomatoes or any other vegetables from hanging planters before, you probably have some questions about doing it. I will attempt to address some here:

Why would I want to grow upside down tomatoes? Are there any benefits to doing so?
If you have plenty of space in the ground to grow your vegetables and you are not curious about growing upside down tomatoes then their is no benefit for you. If you don't have much room to grow crops in the ground however, then this may be great for you. Here is a picture of an inner-city dwelling that has zero yard associated with it. By using patio containers and hanging containers, they have a great little garden!

Half of their hanging planters are Topsy Turvys and half are made from buckets. As you can see, the results are about the same from both:

They also have chili peppers growing from one and cucumbers from another. Notice the cucumber hanging at the bottom of the planter on the right below:

These city dwellers illustrate the main benefit of using hanging containers for vegetables - They are a creative use of growing space. Other benefits are that you don't have to bend over to harvest your veggies and you can locate the planter close to your kitchen door and close to a water source. With tomatoes, upside-down planters are better than regular patio planters because there is no need for staking or caging the tomato plant. Last but not least, they are fun and great for kids too.

What kind of soil should be used in hanging containers?

Regular garden dirt should not be used in containers because it will compact too much. You should use a loose growing medium. I use organic potting soil with compost and coir (coconut fiber) or peat mixed in to hold moisture.

What about watering?

As with all container gardening, watering is the most difficult part. Vegetables need even more water than flowers, so you have to keep up with the watering. Just watch for the soil to be dry on the top few inches. If the plant begins to wilt, add water. Be careful not to be over zealous here though. Watering every day, even if the plant does not need it may cause more harm than good. Tomatoes especially don't like to stay wet and too much water can cause fungal problems.

Do you get more or fewer tomatoes with an upside-down planter?
That depends on a lot. If you are able to keep it growing well, a tomato plant will produce the same amount of fruit hanging upside down as it does right side up. The container aspect is what may change the outcome. I don't think you can expect as much harvest with container grown plants as you get in a garden bed. The roots do become restricted more in a container.

What are the drawbacks to upside-down planting?

As mentioned above, getting the watering correct could be considered a detriment. In addition to striving for the right amount of water, watering can cause another problem. When you water your hanging planter, excess water runs out the bottom of the container and gets the leaves wet. Tomato leaves tend to collect water because it is the underside of the leaves which can form a cup. This standing water can also cause disease problems on those leaves.

Another drawback for some people is that you have to find somewhere sturdy to hang them from. If your container has the right amount of soil, it gets pretty heavy and of course must hang for the entire growing season. Most people use a carport or porch roof to hang them from which can over-shade your planter. I have had success with hanging them from my deck's pergola.

The Topsy Turvy people offer a nice solution to the problem of where to hang the planters in their product, Topsy Turvy Tomato Tree which is offered on Amazon. This is basically one of their planters on a central stand and it is terribly expensive. A better looking solution but even more expensive is The Upside-down Tomato Garden. These are nice but at those prices, I suggest that if you don't have a place to hang upside-down planters - don't use them.

The final reason some people don't want to grow upside-down veggies is that they think it is ugly. Suspending a plant upside down is so unusual, it looks pretty strange and unattractive.

So what is my verdict? I like my upside down tomatoes and will continue to grow some. It is a bit of a challenge which I don't mind, and it is fun for me. I WILL NOT stop growing tomatoes in the ground the old fashioned way and don't suggest that for anyone.

If you have no ground growing space and want a tomato plant, I would give this a try. Upside down planters are also good as an addition to your regular garden, especially if your vegetable garden is on the smaller side.

So now its your turn - what do you think about upside-down tomato planters? Have you tried it? Do you want to try it? Do you think the drawbacks outweigh the benefits or does the fun and novelty outweigh the drawbacks? I'd love to know your thoughts.




Cindy said...

This was one of my "let see how this works" projects for this year. In fact, I bought several and gave to friends who hadn't tried a garden yet. I used mostly garden compost with two tomato plants in the planter. Then I planted an extra bell pepper in another one. The tomato looks ok,still waiting for a harvest, the bell pepper....not so good.
I'll try it earlier next year. Sometimes, I have to have it fail a couple of times before I give up

Tree Hugging Mama said...

I have known about upside down planters since I was a kid. My grandfather has used them all my life. He lives out in the country and had room for plants and in fact has a full ground garden. The upside down planters have the advantage of not needing cages and in the case of cucumbers your vegetable is not sitting on the ground (and therefore not susceptable to ground rot). I am not sure what prompted him to try them, probably a book somewhere, and he made his own. His were huge (made of wood) and had braces holding them up on either side (so they were not hung, but lifted) and because of the size he had no issues with roots.

Hanging plants can also be moved indoors if you start a late garden, or started indoors and kept small to have fresh veggies year round (smaller production because of less sun).

Billie said...

I plan to try this next year because I have a single hook in my balcony roof(concrete) that I am hoping will 'hold' on. I would like to free up one of my containers to plant something else.

containergardener said...

I tried upside down tomatoes this year for the first time. I made my own from a 5 gallon bucket and used the Revolution system from Gardeners Supply.

I grew the upside down tomatoes next to right side up tomatoes and those growing right side up grew much bigger and faster than those upside down.

The upside down tomatoes are shaded by their containers until the plants get really big. Also, the plants try to grow up and knock against the containers.

I think it's a great way to grow things if you can't grow the traditional way, but in my small experiment, the right side up tomatoes won by a mile.

Also, to Cindy, I have found that the biggest mistake with container vegetables is to put too many plants in one container - tomatoes especially need lots of space for root growth.

Kathryn said...

My MIL did cherry tomatoes last year in a 2 L bottle & got better yield than the ones she grew in the ground.

Another advantage you did mention - animals that like to nibble on the garden. The squirrels aren't bothering my tomatoes, but i've noticed a ground squirrel & a rabbit that have become new neighbors since we've planted. A hanging tomato would avoid those issues. :)

Katy said...

I've been wondering about these. Thanks for your post and all of the helpful comments!

Deb said...

If it's windy the stem may break from the plant being tossed back and forth (or twisting) in the wind. Some in our community garden tried it and the plants did well until the wind got them. We decided to add a cylinder of plastic deer mesh which would keep the foliage contained, and thus unable to whip back and forth, would be a good idea.

dixiebelle said...


Our neck of the woods said...

I always wondered about these, thank you for posting this, very informative!

jules said...

I tried these one year. I think, after reading your post, that I have used the wrong dirt. tomato plants turned up immediately and face planted themselves to the underside of the bucket. As did the peppers. I had to go out every day and inch them towards the edge until they were long enough to reach around it. My yield was not anywhere near my in-ground plants. I found it was a pain to keep them watered; it was either not enough, or too much. I was not very satisfied with the results, therefore that was the one and only year for my experiment.

Annodear said...

Love the photos!! Those one people have *so many* of them. And your yard looks lovely, too :-)

I had a bumper crop last year, using my upside-down planter, but this year have gotten very few tomatoes. Will take your good advice for future crops, as I believe I've been watering them too much and not providing enough sunlight.

I did a blog (actually, two) on this year's "crop" when I first planted it. Please feel free to visit.

Condo Blues said...

I used the upside down tomato planter on my patio. The amount of water was difficult to figure out at first because they were either too met or too dry. Then I used a wine bottle of water a day to water them, everything grew beautifully. Another bonus - my dog doesn't get into my hanging tomatoes unlike when we visit my in laws with their in ground garden!

MangoChild said...

I have been thinking about this concept all summer, and will give it a go next year. I've heard it works well for strawberries and other vining produce as well. No expectations, but I want to try. Thanks for your report and advice!

shelle said...

My neighbors yield in the upside down pot was triple my patio tomatoes. I am going to try it next year. Thanks for showing that you can make your own pots, I love that!

daharja said...

Hi - I'm wondering how heavy the planters are, and can you hang them from guttering, or would you need to fix a proper hook?

Also, what sort of material are they made form and could you make your own?

I'm just thinking they seem expensive, and I haven't seen them for sale around here (NZ) and would prefer to make my own than pay for an expensive item plus international postage!